The BlackBerry Death Spiral

by Steve Wildstrom   |   November 21st, 2012

 

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“Notice of Intent to Sole Source iPhone Devices.” That dry headline, from a National Transportation Safety Board post on the Federal Business Opportunities web site, is news about as grim as it can get for Research in Motion. Though the launch of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones the company is counting on for salvation is just over two months away, it may well be too late. Enterprise customers, long the backbone of RIM’s business, are abandoning the platform and without them, RIM has little hope of survival.

The NTSB. like many U.S. government agencies, has long depended on BlackBerrys for secure mobile communications. But they are beginning to fall away. Among others, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and two Homeland Security agencies, Customs & Immigration Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives have announced plans to move to the iPhone.

BlackBerry’s advantages have long been security and reliability and, indeed, RIM recently announced that it had won FIPS 140-2 security certification for the BlackBerry 10 platform.  But other devices, notably the iPhone, now also offer government-ready security solutions. As for reliability, NTSB says in its document justifying a sole source Verizon Wireless/Apple deal:

 This requirement is for the acquisition of Apple iPhone 5 devices. These Apple devices will replace the NTSB’s existing blackberry devices, which have been failing both at inopportune times and at an unacceptable rate. The NTSB requires effective, reliable and stable communication capabilities to carry-out its primary investigative mission and to ensure employee safety in remote locations.

If that’s the way its staunchest customers feel, RIM’s BlackBerry 10, no matter how fabulous, is doomed.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • theycallmemrsinister

    500 bureaucrats are switching to Iphone? I guess they don’t do anything that needs any kind of security. Bejing will be on the end of the line most of the time, from now on.

    • steve_wildstrom

      If you don;t want to bother reading what I actually wrote, you could do a bit of homework on your own.

      Apple is awaiting certification from NIST under Federal Information Processing Standard 140-1 and FIPS 140-2 for the core iOS encryption module. But you can achieve certification today, for example, by running the Good Technology package. Do you really think ICE and BATF would be switching to iPhone if they thought it was insecure?

  • Rich

    Michael Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie couldn’t see the advance of technology. And unfortunately for them, it waits for no one to wake up.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Actually, they saw it because I talked to Mike about it a number of times. The problem was their stubborn belief that business folks would prefer the BlackBerry, or failing that, that IT departments would hate the iPhone and Android and could and would force continued use of BlackBerrys. In other words, they saw the future coming down the tracks, but thought they could derail it.